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Nature’s Express (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , , ,

1823 Solano Avenue
(At Colusa, next to Peet’s Coffee)
Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 527-5331

nature's express rating

Nature’s Express is a great new vegan restaurant that recently moved in next to Peet’s Coffee at the top of Solano Ave, in Berkeley.

With its modern, clean—almost sterile—interior, with splashes of vivid color, and a wide cashier’s counter in front of uniformed chefs at work, Nature’s Express is setup like a fast food restaurant. But that’s where the similarity ends. Well, that and the Air Baked Fries.

There’s a wide selection of appetizers, salads, wraps, breakfast burritos (served all day), soup, burgers, even dessert— amazingly, all vegan.

I couldn’t resist the Air-Baked Sweet Potato Fries, which are soft and delicious, almost chewy.

The first entree I tried was The Patrick-Goudreau, essentially a tofu scramble with veggies in a green tortilla wrap. It was really good, healthy tasting, not too large, and I’d certainly order it again. For $5.25, it’s a great deal! The burrito is named after local vegan chef, teacher, blogger, and cookbook author, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau [] Several of her cookbooks line the shelfs along the side of the store, giving you something to flip through while you wait for your food.

I asked, and found out that Ms. Patrick-Goudreau isn’t associated with the place. The burrito name is an homage, like The Alicia (Silverstone), The Moby, The Stella (McCartney, I guess), and The (Albert) Einstein. Ms. Silverstone’s book The Kind Diet is also available for sale.

Tonight I tried The Moby, a spicy, and fresh tasting burrito with potato, cilantro, black beans, guacamole, green chili, and salsa.

Nature’s Express is cheap, healthy, and fresh, and I’m happy to have it in my neighborhood. I hope they do really well!

Nature's Express

Nature's Express on Solano Avenue

2/27/2010 Update—I went back this week and they had changed their menu. Despite my best attempts to edify the public with this blog, no one got the references in the breakfast burrito names. Now the Stella is the Stellar. The Moby has had a makeover, and now comes with Sriracha sauce, but it’s still delicious. The Patrick-Goudreau now has a new name, The Kick Start.

Rivoli (Albany)

Author: Kathryn | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , ,

1539 Solano Avenue
(between Neilson St & Peralta Ave)
Albany, CA 94707
(510) 526-2542


Liberty Duck Confit Cassoulet and Slow Braised Lamb Shoulder—these are the entrees that jump out from the Rivoli menu when you sit down to scour the list for a vegetarian option. Look for a vegan option and you will only read more about various fish and flat iron steak. If you are vegetarian-not-vegan, there might be a ravioli with dense cheese in butter sauce, or a wedding-type vegetarian food: something green or yellow packed into filo. Of course, you can always ask the waiter what can be done “off menu,” and he will say he’ll “ask the chef,” as if your request is that outre.

The last time I went to Rivoli was with a birthday party. It turned out their reservation system was mostly an illusion. About ten of us stood crammed into a small bar area up front, where the smirking hostess assured us it would be “just a minute more,” for the full forty minutes that we waited.

They do have an excellent wine menu, and I availed myself of that, in addition to bread. I know a lot of people love Rivoli, but as a vegetarian, the food was disappointing, and the service was lacking. The ravioli was of that giant, buttery variety, which tasted good in my mouth and instantly left me queasy. Ken got an “off menu” vegan entree that seemed to be white beans piled on spinach, splattered with pine nuts. I tasted it—not bad—but utterly unimpressive.

We’ve been to a number of high-end fancy restaurants in places like Maui that make fantastic off-menu vegetarian offerings. I’m sorry to say Rivoli isn’t in that category. They seem more determined to turn the animal you once loved as a first grade classroom pet into something crispy on your plate. If that’s your thing, and somehow you are reading this blog, then Rivoli is the place for you.

Everyone at our table was animated by the arrival of the signature mushroom fritters. I found them bland and oily, like something you’d regret ordering at a children’s theme park.

Ajanta (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , ,

1888 Solano Avenue
(Between The Alameda and Fresno Ave)
Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 526-4373


Ajanta is my all time favorite Indian Restaurant, and one of my favorite places to eat in Berkeley. It’s beautifully decorated, the service is warm and solicitous, and the food is seriously amazing, with plenty of vegetarian options.

Ajanta has a wonderful, ever-changing menu, with rotating regional dishes, and a other favorites that we always see. But if you’re expecting chana masala (garbanzo beans), baingan bartha (eggplant), and aloo saag (spinach and potatoes), like (almost) every other Indian restaurant in the USA, think again.

My absolute favorite dish is Bheh, Khumbi Aur Matar, a vegan dish from Sindh (western India, now Pakistan) with lotus root, shiitake mushrooms, and peas cooked with caramelized onions, ginger, garlic and spices including mango powder and coriander. Oh my.

You may also find entrées like Lobhia Aur Khumbi, a vegan Punjabi dish made with black eyed peas and organic shiitake mushrooms cooked in a sauce made with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and spices including coriander, turmeric, and paprika. Yum!

But whatever you order, do not miss the Tandoori Portobello Mushroom appetizer. It will forever change the way you think about mushrooms. It comes served with a spectacular mustard sauce.

If you’re vegan, let them know, so they can steer you clear of the dishes made with yogurt or butter (ghee). Whenever I have asked, they have always been completely accommodating.

Ajanta rates high on the date-worthy scale, and it’s a great place to bring anyone you want to impress. Even the wine list is broad and well considered. Given the quality of the food and the elegance of the place, the prices seem very reasonable to me.

Ajanta is across the street from the Oaks Theater.

Café Raj (Albany)

Author: Kathryn | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , ,

1158 Solano Avenue
Between Kains and Stannage
Albany, CA 94706
(415) 626-1628


This popular neighborhood destination near the bottom of Solano Avenue can sometimes be so busy that there’s a waitlist—even around 6 pm. However the line moves fast. A few years ago, they expanded into the space next door.

The menu has a special vegetarian section, featuring the well-known staples of Indian vegetarian food (as Ken and I see it). Bangan Barta (eggplant), Aloo Saag (spinach & potato), Saag Paneer (spinacy curry with cheese), and Chana Masala (garbanzo beans) top the list. They’re all are quite tasty, in particular the Chana Masala. How so many great things can come out of their tiny kitchen astounds me, but their food is consistently delicious, and light.

Café Raj is a friendly, family-owned place, and the people taking orders may even be the children: an extroverted and sweet group. It is reasonably priced and always delicious.

Khana Peena (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , ,

1889 Solano Ave
(between Fresno Ave & The Alameda)
Berkeley, CA 94707
(510) 528-2519


When Khana Peena moved in across the street from Ajanta a few years ago, I thought it was a bad business decision. Now here it is, 2010: Ajanta is still at the top of it’s game, and Khana Peena is making it work, with a totally different style of Indian food, reasonable prices, and a nice ambiance.

I actually think their food has gotten much better recently. There’s a big vegetarian selection, and they do all of our favorites really well. Chana Masala (spicy garbanzo beans) is great; Aloo Sag (creamy spinach with potatoes) is Kathryn’s favorite; and I really love their Bhindi Masala (okra is a spiced dry sauce). The different kinds of naan (bread) are wonderful.

This is another place I like to take out of town guests. When you have a bunch of people, ask for one of the booths in the back. You can sit on floor-pillows, at a long low table and have a great private dinner experience.

I should also mention that Khana Peena delivers!

Shik Do Rock (Albany)

Author: Ken | No Comments
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , ,

1137 Solano Ave
(between Kains Ave & Stannage Ave)
Albany, CA 94706
(510) 526-6003


As recently as 2007 I had never tried Korean Food. But then a fortuitous find in an underground mall in Sapporo, Japan began my love affair with vegetarian dolsot bibimbap—rice, tofu, mushrooms, and veggies served sizzling in a hot stone pot.

Shik Do Rock is a great little neighborhood Korean place we go to all the time. The steam rises from the bowl as the veggies cook. Stir in some not-so-hot sauce, toss it around with a long metal spoon, and let the anticipation build as it’s still way too hot to eat. Before the main meal arrives, the waitress brings six or seven little side dishes to the table. In addition to kimchee, there are two kinds of sprouts, and yam noodles, which are my favorite. I also like the barley tea they serve.

I take work colleagues and Korean visitors there when they’re visiting from out of town, and they all really like it too. It’s also a great place to go before a movie at the Albany Twin.

About the Authors

Ken and Kathryn are the authors of VegJapan, a vegetarian TravelBlog in Japan.


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